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Pruning climbers

Published on August 21st 2021
A close up of a flower
Climbing plants make their way up in the world by clinging and twining around natural or man-made support. Due to this growth habit, climbing plants can get out of hand or overwhelm an owner when it comes to pruning.
It is important to note that how a vine or climbing plants grow, determines how it will be pruned. Well known Ivy or the Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) grow using aerial roots that grab onto any surface. Climbers like wisteria or honeysuckle have the possibility to get out of hand by their way of twining and then there are the somewhat less rampant climbers like grapes or granadilla.
Below we just scratched the surface when it comes to pruning climbers, but we would like to encourage you to further read up about the climber or creeper that might be waiting for you in your garden for a prune.
A bird sitting on top of a wooden branch

Different types of climbers

Identify which climber you have in order to know how and when you should prune:
A close up of a flower

When should you prune a climber?

Between early spring and early autumn is always a safe bet!
Spring bloomer (old wood) | Prune after they flower
Summer/fall bloomer (new wood) | Prune at the end of winter or early spring
Leaf climber | Prune regularly BUT don’t prune back late summer or early fall
Deciduous climber | They create a lot of mess in Autumn when their leaves drop and are generally fast growers. They need constant light pruning in summer to keep them in check and a proper prune in late winter.
*The later the plant flowers, the harder it can be pruned since it will have more time to grow and produce flowering wood.
A close up of a garden

Tips for pruning climbers:

  • The general aim when it comes to pruning climbers, especially young ones, is to encourage growth. It is thus important to prune the lower part of the plant.
  • If you have kept your climbers' growth under control, choose 3 - 6 main stems for your plant.
  • Climbers that use aerial roots or tendrils like ivy can either be pruned by using pruning shears and trimming the plant like a hedge or by hand pruning it.
  • Always remember to prune above a bud where you want to see new growth.
  • It is up to you to direct your climbers' growth and to limit it as well.
  • Remember to remove the 3 D’s: diseased, dead or damaged.
  • Remove overly tangled stems.
  • Cut cleanly and don’t leave a stub!
  • Remember to cut back to a lateral shoot or bud.
A small bird perched on a tree branch

A few indigenous climbers:

Traveller’s Joy | Clematis brachiata
A deciduous climber or scrambler with slender, twining woody stems that can reach up to 5 m. It bears the most beautiful and sweetly scented, creamy white flowers in late summer and autumn.
A close up of some white Clematis brachiata flowers

Traveller's Joy

Clematis brachiata

Port St John’s creeper | Podranea ricasoliana
Abundantly covered in attractive pink flowers when in bloom all through summer, this creeper is well known in many South African gardens.
Wild grape | Rhoicissus tomentosa
A vigorous and handsome evergreen climber with vine-like leaves and bunches for purple fruit - similar to that of grapes.
Starry wild jasmine | Jasminium multipartitum
Known for its sweet scent, this evergreen climber is a must-have for any garden.
Canary creeper | Senecio tamoides
A fast-growing evergreen climber with semi-succulent stems that are absolutely covered in yellow flowers when in full bloom!
Black-eyed Susan | Thunbergia alata__
A big favourite in South Africa as it is fast-growing, flowers abundantly and is not a fussy grower!

To find more climbing plants suited to specific situations or with specific traits browse the collections below!

Care-free climbers
Indigenous climbers
Waterwise climbers
Edible climbers
Flowering climbers

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